Alaska to Request Federal Disaster Aid for West Coast Storm Damage

Image via National Park Service.

The State of Alaska has indicated that it plans to seek a federal disaster declaration for the September storm that hit struck the Western coast as soon as a damage assessment to determine the financial need is completed.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has already issued a state disaster declaration for the storm, activating the State Emergency Operations Plan, for all communities impacted by the record storm. If the state’s request for federal aid is approved, at least 75% of eligible disaster costs would be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA disaster aid covers three general categories, including assistance to individuals and households, public assistance for emergency replacement of public facilities, and hazard mitigation assistance to reduce future losses to public and private property.

Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok and Nome were particularly hard hit. The Alaska National Guard in western Alaska has been activated to assist impacted communities.

There have been no reports of death or injury. One child initially reported missing was found safe.

Telecommunications reportedly have been largely restored by GCI to impacted communities, although intermittent outages continue in some areas due to power outages and flooding, but in Nome the flooding had largely subsided.

GCI has made a $25,000 donation to the American Red Cross Alaska Region for storm relief efforts. GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside said GCI is committed to helping impacted communities recover. Handyside said GCI is grateful to its technicians and other employees who live in the storm area and have worked to keep service intact there.

The company is working with community partners, including tribal organizations, to provide support. Red Cross volunteers are in Bethel to assess damage there. In Hooper Bay, the school’s kitchen is set up to provide free meals to residents.

Alaska climate specialist Rick Thoman of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, noted in a commentary on the storm that storms were nothing unusual on Alaska’s west coast, home of a number of fishing communities. This one was different though, with powerful remnants of Typhoon Merbok pounding the coast, pushing homes off their foundations and tearing apart protective berms as waves reached over 50 feet in the Bering Sea.

Merbok also hit during the fall subsistence harvest season, when the region’s indigenous communities are stocking up food for the winter.

Thoman said there is a strong likelihood that Merbok was able to form where it did, far east of Japan,

because of the warming ocean, Thoman said. “Had the ocean been a temperature more typical of 1960, there wouldn’t have been as much moisture in the storm,” he said.